Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yet another pesto recipe

Browsing my recipe index here on this site, it's easy to see some themes in what I cook: Asian food. Vegetarian food. And not a small amount of pesto.

OK, you got me--I only have two recipes for pesto published here. But even so, I think two types of pesto is more than many people conceive of. For most of us, the word pesto makes us think of that classic combination of fresh basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. But as I've talked about before, the ways in which you could deviate from that norm (different herb or even bitter green; other nuts besides pine nuts) are basically endless.

Besides its versatility, the other thing that I love about pesto is how it basically acts as a means of preservation. Having joined a CSA this summer, I've learned what it feels like to be drowning in untreated, quickly perishable produce, and as a result I've increasingly turned to jarring and canning, making mostly things like jams and fruit butters. But pesto is another great way to keep your produce around a little longer: tightly sealed, it keeps in the freezer for a very long time. Plus, since it's made up mostly of oil, it never freezes totally solid, making it super easy to just scoop out a portion or two when you're boiling up some pasta--no need to freeze it in individual portion sizes.

So now that I've sold you on the idea of all pesto, all the time, let's get to the recipe, shall we? This particular one utilizes the bitter greens of two tasty root vegetables--beets and radishes. After a very quick blanch in some boiling water just to negate any too-bitter compounds in the greens, they get blitzed with some toasted walnuts, mild oil, and parmesan cheese. This pesto is excellent, of course, served with any kind of pasta, but also makes a nice sauce when thinned down a bit and drizzled over a rich fish filet, such as salmon.

Bitter Greens Pesto

Makes about two cups


- 2 bunches of bitter greens, such as beet or radish tops, dandelion, or watercress, rinsed and spun dry
- 2/3 c. walnut halves or pieces, lightly toasted and cooled
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- Up to 3/4 c. mild oil--I use a combination of grapeseed oil and olive oil
- 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
- Salt
- Pepper


1. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. In the meantime, prepare an ice bath: fill a large mixing bowl with cold water, and add a handful or two of ice. Also have a colander ready.
2. When water is boiling, drop in greens and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds. Immediately drain them in the colander, then transfer them to the ice bath. When cooled, use your hands or a towel to squeeze out as much extra water as possible, then roughly chop.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the walnuts with the garlic until both are mostly chopped. Add the greens and pulse again. Season with salt and pepper. Then, while machine is running, drizzle in the oil, stopping when pesto reaches desired consistency--it should not be too thin. Finally, add the parmesan cheese and pulse to combine. Check for seasoning.

Note: if freezing the pesto, choose a sturdy container that is just big enough, and press a layer of plastic wrap right onto the surface of the pesto before sealing with the lid.

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